Old-fashioned Jefferson Country Store Serves Barbecue and Community
The floorboards creak as you walk into the Jefferson Country Store, the sound helping customers step back in time. The Jefferson Country Store on Alabama Highway 28 was built in 1957 and has been open ever since, except for one year when the owner was ill.
When her aunt’s health problems forced the store to close, Betsy Compton, along with her boyfriend, Tony Luker, decided to step up and reopen the landmark. Co-owner Luker said, “It was depressing because it all closed at the same time---the store, the post office. We didn’t know how much the store meant to people until it closed.”
The community of Jefferson, about 10 miles away from the city of Linden, used to be a bustling area. The community featured a lodge, cotton gin, and a thriving community center. Today, the community center still remains and hosts the famous Jefferson Barbecue each year in April.
Yet, the every day focal point of the community is the little country store. Compton and Luker continue to develop an atmosphere that is reminiscent of a bygone era. Luker said, “It’s kind of a history lesson. People come to show their kids and grandkids what a country store is.”
Various license plates from across the country decorate the ceiling. Posters dedicated to Alabama’s history are plastered to the walls. Collegiate memorabilia from Auburn and Alabama are displayed on the shelves behind the store counter.
Store shelves are stocked with MoonPies and old-fashioned candies, while in the fridge you can find hoop cheese and rag bologna.
Another famous fixture, “Store Dog”, greets customers with a wagging tail. “Store Dog” has been featured in newspaper articles, and t-shirts adorned with his black and white image are sold. This summer, the store donated proceeds to a local humane society.
More than 1,500 “friends” follow the Jefferson Country Store Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/jeffersonstore, which features customer comments and photos as well as “Store Dog” updates.
The store is quaint, but it is big enough for families to gather at a picnic table to eat the delicious barbecue Luker makes on the weekends. Old friends can chat and sway in the wooden rocking chairs. Behind the rocking chairs is a kitchenette where Southern delicacies such as pimento cheese, chicken salad, and fried bologna sandwiches are made to order daily.
The combination of all these elements slows down time as you acquaint yourself with all of the charming sights and sounds. As Luker puts it, serving customers both food and an experience is “more than just a sale.”
The Jefferson Country Store is a place where you are welcomed to the store by the customers seated in the wooden rockers. It is a place where the owner learns how you like your hamburger and remembers it the next time you visit. It is a place where you can drink Coca Cola from a glass bottle and buy fresh fruit that was picked from a town just a few miles down the road.
However, just as the customers are more than another sale, the Jefferson Country Store is more than a store to the community.
It was a meeting place for the local firefighters before their department was built. Since the post office closed in 2013, the country store is the place where stamps are sold, parcels are packaged, and mail is picked up and dropped off.
The Demopolis hospital bus comes by once a month to perform free health screenings in the community. The bookmobile parks at the country store to bring books to children.
The owners are working to coordinate with the VA buses to make stops at the store. They also want to host after school programs and build a playground for the children who live in Jefferson.
The store has balanced bringing new life into the community with reminding people of where they came from. Luker said he enjoys watching people who have not seen each other in 30 or 40 years bump into each other and reunite in the store. Establishments like these create an environment for personal relationships to develop, an essential ingredient for a community to survive and thrive.